The hype around television debates dominated much of the build-up to the General Election in May. The debate about the debates seemed to go on and on before a rather lacklustre agreement was reached. Now the issue is back again. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has recently challenged the Prime Minister David Cameron to an annual ‘state of the union’ debate. The suggestion has been given a lukewarm response by the Prime Minister who is far from keen. However should they be given greater thought and is there an argument to be made for them taking place?
Presently the weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) is seen as the time where the Prime Minister is held to account. Since Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership race, PMQs has been changing and the tone is more measured than previously. This does not mean it is totally effective though and often it is used for partisan purposes rather than for scrutinising the actions of the government. Other methods to hold a government to account would certainly be useful and television debates could fall into this.
Previous television debates have drawn in large audiences. They have been a useful way of politicians connecting with the public and also the public holding the politicians to account. Rival politicians and parties are given a chance to be heard and can present their arguments. The government equally is given an opportunity to rebuff these arguments and present a case of their own. Used properly there could be a place for such debates.
Jeremy Corbyn would be the winner of such proposals. This style of debate would enable him to connect directly with the public and redress concerns voters may have. This does mean he has a big personal stake in pushing the debates. David Cameron would have nothing to gain from these debates and they could only hurt him. Corbyn would be validated as an alternative and the government may lose control of the story and narrative.
It is for these reasons that it is highly unlikely that these debates will go ahead. Cameron was famously sceptical about them before the last election and it is hard to see how anything has changed this time around. It is a shame the proposals will be rejected, but rejected they will be and calculated self-interest will once again scupper a potentially good idea.
Article by Mike Hough
Photograph – The Spectator